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Friday, 24 August, 2001, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Are Tories jinxed in Wales?
Celebrating devolution in Wales
The Tories have encountered repeated slip-ups in Wales
by veteran BBC broadcaster Patrick Hannan

Not all that long ago - during the 1980s in fact - Conservative politicians liked to boast that it was possible to walk from one end of the country to the other, from Monmouth to Holyhead, without having to set foot in anything but a Tory constituency.

Nowadays, in contrast, they seem to find it difficult to set foot in Wales without sinking into a quagmire of embarrassments and disasters.

Former Welsh Secretary John Redwood
Embarrassment over Welsh national anthem

Iain Duncan Smith, is just the latest leading Conservative to discover this the hard way.

The fact that one of his key supporters in Wales, Edgar Griffin, had close links to the extreme right wing British National Party, is embarrassing to his leadership campaign.

No-one is saying Mr Duncan Smith himself should have known, but someone should have, in particular someone in Wales.

Although Mr Griffin was sacked within minutes of the story emerging, the damage had been done.

Perhaps we shouldn't be totally surprised at this turn of events.

For years now the poor old Tories have found Wales dangerous territory.

There was the case of Keith Best, for instance, who had unexpectedly won Anglesey in 1979 but had to stand down when he was accused of (and later convicted of) illegal share applications.

Former Welsh Secretary William Hague with wife Ffion
Welsh links: William Hague and Ffion

Or there was Rod Richards who had to resign as a Welsh Office minister when a newspaper printed stories about his relationship with a young woman who wasn't Mrs Richards.

Subsequently Mr Richards has found himself in other scrapes of various kinds which have included his being expelled from the Conservative group in the National Assembly of Wales.

And for sheer comedy what can compete with the efforts of John Redwood when, as Welsh Secretary, he failed dismally not only to sing Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers'), but failed even to fake singing it?

I am not alone in thinking that that bizarre event, repeated endlessly by cruel television producers, was a significant influence in the downward path of Mr Redwood's political career.

It became so bad that he was sacked from the shadow cabinet by William Hague, another man whose excursions into Welsh politics did him no good in the end.

Ex-Welsh Office Minister Rod Richards
Rod Richards: Newspaper expose

And along with the individual disasters there have been the collective ones.

The Conservatives didn't win a single parliamentary seat in Wales in the 1997 election.

Surely things could never be so bad again? Yes they could. That performance was repeated this year.

Now, by one of those curious twists of fate, their public profile in Wales is chiefly maintained by their presence in an assembly which they opposed.

And all but one of those seats are held thanks to a proportional representation system they do not favour.

In many ways the party's troubles in Wales are a heightened version of what is happening to it throughout the United Kingdom.

Unfortunate events like the Edgar Griffin case tend to happen to people and organisations already in difficulties.

The important question is what, if anything, can they do about it.

There are those who argue that devolution is the only way forward, that the Conservatives in Wales should have an organisation separate from although affiliated to the United Kingdom party.

They say that is the only way to establish an approach which would appeal specifically to Welsh voters.

Mr Duncan Smith has made it clear that he doesn't think much of this idea.

But the way things are going it's not a new organisation the Welsh Conservatives may need, but a new name.

See also:

10 Nov 98 | UK Politics
Welsh Tories choose ex-minister
05 Mar 01 | Wales
Hague would redefine Welsh post
23 Jun 00 | Wales
Rod Richards cleared of assault
06 Aug 99 | UK Politics
Rod Richards: A career profile
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